by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)
Take a number please,
the dispenser reads
at the butcher’s.
I take one and wait in line.
It’s before Shabbos, everyone is rushed,
people pushing or being pushed,
trying to get to the counter, to get their food,
someone mutters, “I was ahead of you.”
“Who’s next?” says the butcher,
and panic falls from me like a puzzle
dropped on the floor and I can’t
find all the pieces and the ones I can
pick up don’t fit together anymore and
I want to tell them about my father’s
sister and how her visa number was too
high and there were too many people in
line ahead of her waiting to get out and how
she was deported to
Auschwitz and she didn’t get
a number there and if she had, she
might have survived and
I want to tell them about my friend’s mother, how
she got a number on her forearm in
Auschwitz, and how she got a
visa number after the war and about the
dreams she has every night and
the butcher calls my number, and I
cannot make a sound.
Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us, poems about her family and the Holocaust. Her recent work has appeared in The Poet’s Quest for God and is forthcoming in Forgotten Women. Janet is currently producing AFTER, a cinematic film about Holocaust poetry. https://www.facebook.com/AfterAPoetryFilm/
Reprinted from Lilith Magazine, where this poem first appeared, with kind permission of the author.